Archive | August, 2009

“You Are My Sunshine”

23 Aug

There’s a room in my Grandmother’s fancy Malabar Hill apartment known as “The Blue Room” simply because the room has hints of blue while the room next door is “The Pink Room.” The Blue Room also houses a clock whose face is a photograph of my Grandfather, my sister and myself. And every time I look at the clock, I’m transported back in time to my childhood.

I’ve always been lucky to be surrounded by great men who not only inspire me but aren’t afraid to give me the best advice; my Father, my Uncles and more so now, my Brother. But this isn’t about any of them; this is about my Grandfather.

My fondest memories of my Grandfather go back to when I was all of six. I would sit on his lap and we would sing the chorus of “You are my sunshine” by Johnny Cash. Later on, it was my Grandfather who insisted we wake up bright and early on August 15th, and would drag us in our pajama’s to watch the raising of the Indian flag on its Independence Day. Every year, he would reiterate the importance of the flag, the reasons for the saffron, white and green and tell us stories of the partition. While we spent most of our summers soaking up the monsoons in Mumbai, it was him who insisted we make friends and hauled us down to society podium only to give us some of our closest friends till date. My last memory of my Grandfather was when he took my siblings and I on a day out in Mumbai. We visited the History Museum and the local Aquarium. I still remember how proudly he spoke about the history of India as we repeatedly yawned. Now how I wished I hadn’t been bored and sucked up all the lessons he was teaching us at that time.

Recently, my Grandmother told me the story of how my Grandfather wooed her back in the day with love letters, which ultimately did its job and she fell in love with him for that very charismatic nature. I wish he were here today, to tell me off when I’ve been bad, to teach guide me when I’m stuck or even to pick me up when I’ve hit rock bottom. However, I do know he is watching from up above and I would like to think he is proud of me; proud that I’ve finally found my calling and done what makes me happy only because he inspired me in so many incredible ways.

I’d be no where or nothing without him…so this one is dedicated to him. I love and miss you very much Daddy.

And if you’re looking for inspiration, look no further. We have an amazing line up of interviewees today. But before that, I’d like to welcome Dimple Motwani onboard. She will be contributing interviews with great personalities on a regular basis.

Enjoy!

Love and light,
Roshni M.

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Pooja Bedi

22 Aug

“I was voted hottest sex symbol of India two years in a row by public poll in film magazines, splashed all over posters and glossies” – Pooja Bedi

Pooja Bedi may be controversial but her ideals and thoughts are as progressive as they get. Daughter to the incredibly talented Kabir Bedi and beautiful model-dancer Protima Bedi, Pooja herself has dabbled in a number of fields all closely related to the entertainment arena. But most importantly, Pooja has redefined the modern Indian woman and yet has managed to remain as Indian as they get. She isn’t afraid to voice her opinion, isn’t afraid to call a spade a spade and has found herself in numerous situations. But thanks to her quick wit and brutal honesty, the model-actress-dancer-television host has come out of every ordeal a complete winner with no one to applaud but herself. While it was Priyanka Chopra who danced to the song of Desi Girl, clearly the song belongs to the ultra modern and yet Desi, Pooja Bedi. If you’re looking for some amazing inspiration and advice for life, you’ve come to the right place. Pooja Bedi exclusively speaks to Roshni Magazine about life, its hassles, how to get by and forming the epitome of the avant-garde Desi woman.

You’ve always been in the public eye right from the beginning, From Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, to being a model, a theatre actress, television host and most importantly you defined the modern Indian woman. How has the journey been?
Well, it has definitely been a roller coaster ride and I’ve donned many hats through the years; starting off as a film actress, theatre actor in “Wow, what a girl!” and “Carry on Papa”; a model for Tips and Toes, Frooti and Kamasutra amongst others; then settling into holy matrimony and returning as a talk show host, dancer on Jhalak Dikhlaja and Nach Baliye; author for Timepass published by Penguin, India— which was on top 10 national best seller list; a daredevil with Khatron Ke Khiladi, and a columnist for Mid-Day, Hindustan Times and Times of India. I’ve enjoyed every bit of it! I’m happy to symbolise the modern Indian woman that respect her Indian identity and role in the family yet leads life on her own terms and values her own identity and rights as a human being and individual.

Your upbringing is said to be pretty liberal. How do you feel it has made you the person you are and are you the same with your children?
I certainly am a product of my environment and I’m eternally grateful to my parents for teaching me by example. I have been brought up to question, not blindly follow; to be unafraid of expressing thoughts, feelings and emotions, to fight for what is deserved and fair; to stand up for what is right and to enjoy the journey of life. And most importantly, I thank them for their sunny, positive outlook to everything. Having said that, my childhood was shaped in an ultra bohemian environment and my kids have a far more traditional one. I’m a loving, doting, fun, hands-on-mom but also an utter disciplinarian. I’ve involved them a lot in my charity causes and they are the most amazing loving, responsible, intelligent and caring children a mother could have.

Your most popular advertisement was the Kama Sutra ad which basically demonstrated New Age Indian women were. Were you sceptical when you agreed to the ad? And as much as you can remember, what was that experience like?
Nope. Not at all sceptical! My parents were averse to me getting into films but my mom was thrilled when I told her about the Kamasutra campaign. She felt it was a wonderful platform and medium to spread awareness about HIV, unwanted pregnancies and STD’s in India. At that time, 1991, sex was a taboo subject and awareness levels were so dismal that HIV was considered to be just a gay disease. I know it made a lot of people sit up and take note of issues that needed to be addressed and opened up the floodgates of discussion on the topic.

Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar went to put you on the map as an actress and you were seen as the nineties sex symbol. At that time, what did you think of that title?
To me, being elevated to that position just by virtue of wearing a short skirt or a bikini was astonishing! I was voted hottest sex symbol of India two years in a row by public poll in film magazines, splashed all over posters and glossies. My Kamasutra campaign was heralded by British tabloids as the beginning of the sexual revolution in India. I had fans stalking me, professing their love and writing to me in blood. I was so utterly amused by all of it. I went along with all the hype and hoopla, played it to the hilt. And then one fine day I chucked it all up for holy matrimony and settled down to a life of domestic bliss.

Your father is an internationally recognized actor. Was there any pressure from him and otherwise, to succeed as an actress?
My dad and mom both were not too keen on my joining films. I was a class topper in India and used to sign the book of honor. I then went to study in Los Angeles with the intention and dream of being on Wall Street. I just got terribly homesick and used my first film offer as an excuse to return to India. But when I returned one offer led to another and destiny took over!

And then a whole range of theatre came your way. How was it different acting on stage? What made you venture into theatre and move away from film?
Acting on stage has instant gratification. There’s an instant connect with the audience and both my plays, “Carry on Papa” and “Wow! What a Girl”, were comedies and ran to packed houses! Films however, survive the test of time. Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar still airs routinely on television and I have developed a huge fan base that has remembered me through the years because of it.

More recently, you’ve become a well-known dancer which is a talent you weren’t initially so confident about. How do you feel about it now post Jhalak Dikhlaja?
Both Jhalak and Nach Baliye 3 did wonders for my dancing skills. I love to develop new talents and skills and I’m thrilled that in such cases, I get paid to learn!

Just Pooja, your talk show, has gained immense recognition, won numerous awards and given you a new platform. Did you expect the accolades and where do you hope to take the show?
I’m a people’s person and I’m genuinely interested in the people I interview and topics we discuss. I think that it automatically translates into a highly involving and engrossing show. I was thrilled to bits when I started winning awards and accolades. It was so utterly gratifying and motivating. So were all the comments from people across all age groups and strata’s of life when they told me how the shows had brought them closer to reality and had altered their thought processes and shaped and changed their lives. My family and friends think it’s the perfect forum for me as I talk and question nonstop even in my off screen life. My greatest desire now is to have a talk show on a major network to reach a larger audience.

Oh! I’m dying to also know, you also were the post-host of Bigg Boss! Are we going to see you on the next season and how comfortable are you with asking the contestants such intimate questions?
I have no reservations or apprehensions asking questions that should and need to be asked. We are all responsible for our actions and if the contestants choose to put themselves, their lives and emotions on display on television, they have to account for it on the same medium

Similarly, your personal relationships are always in the limelight – for good and bad reasons. How have you learnt to deal with the constant media scrutiny? And you are extremely honest and open about them—why is that?
I accepted a long time ago that if you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen! In my profession, you are always under scrutiny. Your clothes, your handbags, your relationships, your friendships, your professional achievements and debacles – it’s all under the microscope. Either you can attempt to hide it and risk something really untrue or distorted to emerge as an end result of rumour mongering, or you can just come clean, state what is a reality with dignity.

And if that isn’t enough, you get unnecessarily dragged into different controversies! Do they follow you or vice versa? And how do you managed to stay so composed and calm?
My mother taught me that if you believe in what you do you shouldn’t fear ridicule or scrutiny. And that if the world laughs, laugh right back, it’s as funny as you are! I just tend to walk on a road less traveled and lead my life in a very open, non-conformist manner and that does tend to raise follow-the-herd mentality eyebrows. I believe in the purity and clarity of my thought processes and actions, my strength comes from that conviction and I simply plod on undeterred.

You’ve openly advocated cosmetic procedures for women including Botox. In fact you’re known as India’s Botox Babe. How does that make you feel and what is your honest take on it? Do you admit to using it? And seriously, do Botox parties actually take place?
(Laughs) I’m not sure about the Botox parties as I’ve never been invited to one. But yes, I do use Botox. I think it’s amazing that medical science has discovered such wonderful effective ways to look younger. The most important thing about Botox is going to a qualified practitioner for the administering of it to avoid misuse and adverse reactions. There’s nothing wrong in wanting to look better and more attractive and youthful. I’m personally against surgery to change body parts and facial features, unless there’s a deformity, because I think everyone should revel in their uniqueness. However, maintaining youthfulness is not something I’m averse to. Every one does it whether by virtue of using face creams, hair dye, make up etc. For me Botox is just another tool for the same purpose.

What’s the secret to your fabulous body, great looks and positive outlook on life?
I’m happy on the inside! I believe in being the fountain of happiness for those around me! I love to laugh and make others laugh and smile. I enjoy my happy times and share them with others and as strange as it may sound, I even enjoy the bad times because I know they are necessary experiences. Life cannot just be all up and no down. No one on planet earth has had that privilege! As for my body…gosh! I have a huge appetite and I love my food! I’m very particular about quality and taste as I believe calories must be worth the workout. I very easily get bored with work out routines and change them routinely. I alternate between Tai Chi, Kick Boxing, swimming, walking, Bikram Hot Yoga, cycling, the Power Plate and so on.

What is your attitude and take on life?
We’re born and we die. In between we have a short and wonderful experience called life. All we have to do is enjoy the journey and experience, experience experience—  countries, cultures, movies, music, nature, human beings, animals, pets, food, fashion, television, books, sports, the list is endless! And all most people do is get bogged down by conformity and stick to what is familiar and known, which is so unfortunate. I believe in abiding by the law but will never conform to societal diktat just because it is expected. I do realise that when your head sticks out of a crowd you should expect both brickbats and bouquet and that’s ok with me! It’s my life. And I will experience it to the fullest! It’s my God given right. Most importantly, we need to be sensitive to the suffering of others. I’m a firm believer in humanity and Karma. We all have the power to help those less fortunate than us. If we reach out with our position, our time, or our money and help even one person, India would be a much happier, stronger, and spiritually richer country.

How has the modern Indian woman changed? What changes do they need to make?
The modern Indian woman is a wondrous and amazing phenomenon!! She has emerged from the clearly defined boundaries of her home and entered schools, colleges, and defined her right and role in the work place. She effectively juggles a work life, her home, children and traditions and festivities. She’s a great blend of Western emancipation and Indian warmth, compassion, family values and traditions. This emergence has taken place only in the past few decades, starting with urban metro’s and though she is gaining acceptability in smaller towns the change has yet to permeate to grass root level.

Who is Pooja Bedi? How would you describe yourself?
Pooja is a happy soul. A free spirit. Child of the universe. God loving, not God Fearing.

What is your message to women all around the world?
Enjoy and revel in your femininity. Emancipation does not mean being a better man. Our strength lies in us being women. And most importantly, let us women put a stop to the horrific practice of discriminating against women. Female foeticide and infanticide, dowry are all discriminatory practices. We need to put an end to it. And it starts with YOU.

~ Roshni M.
(August, 2009)

Anju Modi

17 Aug

“Western designers are taking inspiration from our culture” – Anju Modi

There are designers and then there is Anju Modi. The veteran fashion designer has designed for some the most beautiful women in India but recognizes the need to help the textile industry while furthering her label. Her designs are a frequent at the fashion extravaganzas around the country that boast of clean, elegant and graceful cuts. Deemed as India’s first Couture fashionista, she has also set up Research and Development Centers in rural areas where Anju’s garments are stitched to facilitate the education and progression of otherwise illiterate tailors. However, the best aspect of her clothes is the feminine wearability factor which has gained her an admired clientele. The designer-environmentalist speaks to Roshni Magazine about her Holistic Village and dressing some of the greats in India.

What is fashion to you and how do you define it?
‘Fashion’ means fashioning garments according to the time and need of the hour. It’s a service industry.

Why and how have you combined fashion with humanitarianism to create a niche market for yourself?
The ‘designer’ is designing the fabric keeping geographical, psychological and aesthetical aspect in mind. When some of these designs and ideas get accepted by the masses it becomes fashionable to wear them. Trends and fashion keep changing for various reasons.

How has fashion changed over the last 20 years you have been designing? How has it remained the same?
Fashion is a social need with a positive attitude. As I said it’s a service industry the designer has a responsibly towards the society. They should fulfill the demand by providing right designed garments at the right prices. A lot of low income group people are dependent on the garment industry for their livelihood like tailors, weavers, printers, and embroiderers. They put in their hard work for twelve to eighteen hours a day. So I feel the money generated by this huge industry should percolate down to these karigars (tailors) whose nimble fingers and hard work make these beautifully crafted garments a luxury product. So this ‘social consciousness’ should be there in us and we should strengthen our backward linkages. While working with them I lived in the villages and absorbed the real culture of our country. I experience the real love and warmth from them. Their huge heritage of designs inspired my collections and I felt the need to give back to them whatever is in my capacity.

What is your opinion on previous styles that eventually come back into fashion again?
Change is the permanent feature in the fashion world! Isn’t it ironical? Fashion changes as the world changes. If we study the history of fashion, one can see the influences of political, geographical economical conditions on people’s lifestyle and so their dressing of voluminous ball gowns reduces to riding trousers in the west and in our country it becomes khadi and Nehru topi (cap) during independence struggle and later gradually finds its own heritage salwar kameez and lenghas. Now it’s a total cultural pot pourri so dressing is fusion styling— like kurti’s with trousers or long Nehru jackets with skirts. Western designers such as Armani, DKNY, and Macqueen are taking inspiration from our culture. Their churi trousers, Cowl trousers are a takeoff from our churidars and salwars and Indian designers are influenced by the western lifestyle. Still there are those classic Mughal butas, vegetable dyed colors; Paisleys, which are a thousand years old designs; Angrakha, anarkalis are still there and masses still want them. It’s a paradoxical situation; old styles are there but still not there…in a new look!

Tell us about your “Holistic Craft Village.
Well, this is my ultimate aim in life to set up ‘Holistic Craft village’. It’s a design research and development project, where the old meets new meet and a beautiful synergy is created.

How do you incorporate the environment and its conservation into your designs? More importantly, what made you develop into an environment activist?
As I had mentioned earlier that every business should be done with a social and environmental consciousness, so this village is going to have nature all around and using our handicraft and our ancient techniques of tie dye chikankari, weaving, vegetable dye printing organic cottons, it will support these dyeing crafts as well as the environment and the villages will get a new lease of life. My vision is to use the modern tools like computers, televisions and telesystems to support these valuable aesthetic art and craft to give self employment to a lot of families. It is a Gandhian theory which will enable a huge population to earn their living in simple cottages but yet help modernize their lifestyle by giving them the comforts of air-conditioning and computers. The cottages will be made by the green architecture as we in India used to build in 500 years ago, with trees and streams and cleanliness all around. I as a Designer and a lot many more designers will be working with these craftsmen innovating new designs and ideas which is going to be so much in demand that India will become a fashion destination. How am I saying this so confidently? Well today the world is realizing the damages done by the industrialization. We are facing the calamities of climate change and so we are turning back to old values, the old way of life so why not take the best of the old and new to lead a holistic life! In my endeavor to work with our villages and create something simple, clean and elegant, I became passionate about the subject and it has influenced my design philosophy. The idea just flows and I visualize the motif colors and silhouettes. It just comes to me and I sketch, execute and the garments are there. I have developed fabrics in Kota, Chanderi and Varanasi and have developed bagru prints with silver foil.

In your opinion, who are some well-known personalities who wear traditional wear the best?
I have dressed Shabana Azmi, Nita Ambani, Katrina Kaif, Sharmila Tagore and lot of elegant personalities. In my opinion Shabana Azmi and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan wear traditional outfits most gracefully.

What are some aspects that are seen in all your designs?
My color combination is a strong point in all my collections. I don’t overdo any element— it always maintains balance. The focal point of my design does not lose its place.

Some words associated with your designs are “elegant” “poised” “wearable” and “clean.” How do you view your designs?
Fashion is an expression of one’s personality. A confident woman will wear elegant clean designs. She does not need to shout through her dressing that “Look at me!”

What message do you hope to send out to people through your designs?
My message is be confident and positive and loving person; you will automatically choose the right clothes and you will look great always

What is coming out of the Modi camp in the next season and what aspects of the environment are you most concerned about at this time?
Well the Modi camp provides whole wardrobe solutions for Evening Party Wear for the ages of 25 to 50, for daywear, for working women, bridal wear, bridemaids and so on. Name it and we have it!

~ Anju Modi
(August 2009)

Dabboo Ratnani

17 Aug

“I eat, breathe and sleep photography” – Dabboo Ratnani

Dabboo Ratnani is recognised as one of Bollywood’s most famous photographers that all of the top actors swear by. The skilled photographer has worked with all the biggies in the business, some of which include Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Hrithik Roshan, Aishwarya Rai and Preity Zinta. With much hard-work, determination and many photos sessions later, Dabboo has gained immense recognition over the years with the popularity of his annual calendar, movie stills and ad campaigns. He continues to work in film, magazines and in the advertising industry. Read on to see as ace photographer gives Roshni Magazine the lowdown on clicking the stars and his words of “clickdom” for aspiring photographers.

Why photography?
It was early in life, when chance came upon an amateur camera at home in my dad’s drawer and I picked it up. I was a gizmo guy not thinking about how serious photography would get for me and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Later on, I invested in the first SLR camera. I met a photographer and started assisting him after which there was no looking back. One thing led to another and before I knew it, I started doing film projects and ad campaigns and what not.

Start at the beginning. How did it all begin?

I assisted a photographer for four years. I didn’t take any photography courses because there were no good photography schools in India in the early 1990’s and it was too expensive for a middle class family like mine to afford to go to the UK. My ex-boss did a three year course and I told him it was too expensive for me. I also believed that the experience I would gain working with him would be better than learning from a school because a lot of what was taught at the school was not what I needed, such as film processing. I learnt everything I needed to on the job for about 4 years. I did my own photography outside of work and always got feedback from my boss.

What is your definition of Photography?
Photography runs in my bloodstream. I eat, breathe and sleep photography. I’m continuously thinking about photography—in a restaurant, with family, with light, everywhere. I need to continuously evolve and I cannot be stagnant. Photography is like an art and making money out of a business you love. Every time I see life, I incorporate it into my pictures. There’s no stopping. Any interesting composition can be incorporated into a picture. Even while driving on the road. The minute you feel stagnant, you may as well retire. If you’re bored of it, you can’t justify this profession as one of your own.

What are some of your biggest inspirations?
Life, movies, music, I am a continuous learner. I don’t want to think I’m big or I’ve achieved enough or I’m the best. My outlook to this job is that it is my first day at work everyday. I love doing something new everyday and I’m glad that’s what I do. I always put my 100% in everything I do.

What qualities do you think a good photographer should possess?
He should be good technically and have good cameras. He has to be technically sound. He should have all the updated equipment, good quality camera and lenses. He should also be patient, easy to work with, creative, in touch with fashion and need to be aware of what’s going around in the world. Very often, if he gets stagnated and doesn’t want to learn anymore and thinks he has achieved everything, it leads to the first steps of his downfall. Adapting and evolving is an important quality that a good photographer should also have.

What are the main technical aspects do you believe a photographer should look at when taking a picture?
The lighting is very essential because it ensure that the model or the celebrity looks good. This means knowing when to use hard, soft or natural light. The ambience that he creates in the frame is also very important as well as the composition. A photographer should also pay attention to the technique, such as the background; knowing when to use blurred or sharp focus.

The main highlight that people look forward to every year is your annual calendar which features all the top Bollywood stars. In 2007, your theme was water. However, in 2008 and 2009, you didn’t restrict yourself to any theme. Why is that?
2009 was my tenth calendar and only 2007 had a theme which was water. I didn’t get restricted in any way with water. The theme of water did not hold me back from being creative. The theme doesn’t become stronger than the photographer and it shouldn’t. I want the celebrities and my photography to stand out. There’s lots of stuff to do with water: from fun, to sexy to bold. The theme gets more prominence than the photography. If I had to choose wind, it wouldn’t give me enough satisfaction for the theme to stand out. The theme should not restrict me from being creative. As opposed to 24 actors I had 48 for 2009’s calendar, which enabled me to be creative with each and every one of them.

How do you decide on the concepts for your calendar every year?
It depends on how I feel. How I want the calendar to look the following year. I usually start planning 6 months in advance and start shooting 3 months before the release of the calendar. 2008 was a bit grungier. 2007 was water. It has a lot to do with how I feel at that time. I try to show actors in concepts in which they have not been seen before. If they looked sexy one year, they should look different the following year, maybe cute or fun. It should also work for the celebrity. I also prefer taking more candid moments than studio shots and try to tell a story with every picture I take.

2009 saw the production and the launch of your tenth calendar which featured 48 Bollywood celebrities altogether, which is probably a first for any photographer worldwide to accomplish. How did you do it?
Being my tenth calendar, I wanted to make it something larger, something nobody has done before. So I was initially thinking of couples or individuals. I only exposed the idea on the day of the launch. The actors didn’t know I had 48 top actors in one calendar. I thought getting couples was too boring in terms of posing and it had the possibility of being repetitive. Getting 48 of them separately could enable me to show variety in angles, expression and a different mood from what they’ve done before. Having 2 pictures on one was difficult enough, but I also had to think of how does one incorporate 4 pictures in one month for 12 months. This was the brainchild of my wife, Manisha and me. We both knew we wanted to do something different from previous years.

On average, how long does each photo shoot last?
In general, it depends on how many outfits we need for each model. It usually takes four hours indoors and eight hours outdoors. It also depends on the lighting and setting. For the calendars, it could take between four minutes to five hours. For example, in one of Hrithik [Roshan]’s photo shoots, the tattoo artist took 4 hours to draw his tattoo, but Hrithik sat patiently throughout the whole thing. But it really depends. Usually, Shahrukh [Khan] or Mr. [Amitabh] Bachchan don’t take more than five minutes for a picture. So yeah, it could take five minutes to five hours for a photo shoot.

How do you prepare the models or actors for their shoot?
I try and do a meeting with them beforehand so they know what they’re doing and can conceptualise. If there’s no time to meet, I email or SMS some ideas to them and then I sit with the dress designers and the make up artists. We decide amongst ourselves what we’re going to do in order to make them look different. Sometimes, we shoot something to do with their next release. We also allow the celebrities to see their clothes beforehand. I also go to the location and check it out in order to understand the look and feel of the setting.

Movie stills, magazines, ad campaigns and now calendars. What next?
Very much something in photography. I’m not planning to deviate from this profession because I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I shoot 25 days a month. Until I get bored of it, I won’t think of getting out of it. I’ve started doing a lot of ad campaigns with actors.  But I might try something along the lines of conceptual photography. I’ve never done wildlife before, so I might try that as well.

If not a photographer, what would you be and why?
I love music. So probably a DJ or something to do with that. Music is a passion. I’ve collected music since I was in school. Every time my brother and I would travel, we would collect and share our music with each other.

Who is your favorite actor and actress to work with and why?
Each has their own character and feel which is why I don’t really have a particular favourite. I try and incorporate all of them in my calendar. Everyday is different for me. Everyday I work with a different actor and try and do something different for the both of us. But if I had to pick amongst the actors, probably Hrithik, Shah Rukh, Mr. Bachchan and Abhishek [Bachchan] and amongst the actresses, Aishwarya [Rai Bachchan], Kareena [Kapoor] and Preity [Zinta].

Any last words to your fans or people who are looking for a career in photography?
Don’t get into this profession for the glamour. It’s very creative and it’s like an art which you’re making money out of. It should be a complete passion otherwise you can’t justify the job. It takes a lot to be a photographer. You have to be evolving, creative and consistent. Consistency is very important because you can’t deliver one great job and not continue. You have to keep getting better and keep pushing yourself to do so. The annual calendar is for myself and I keep pushing myself to do better because I know I can. You have to know you’re going to get better with time. The outlook has to be passionate and has to be in the bloodstream of the photographer.

~ Dimple Motwani
(August 2009)

Rahul Khanna

17 Aug

“People say I’m so choosy, but it’s often the case of not having many choices” – Rahul Khanna

Hailing from the illustrious Khanna family, Rahul Khanna has pretty much done it all. His journey to stardom began on television. As a popular VJ on MTV he gained an immense fan following, especially the ladies who found his cute smile irresistible. He then bid adieu to the idiot box and found his way into films, debuting alongside Aamir Khan and Nandita Das in the internationally proclaimed Earth. Since then, there has been no looking back. Whether it was Bollywood or Hollywood, Rahul has experimented in both worlds of acting and additionally, some theater too. Friendly, charming and oh so cute, it was such fun chatting with Rahul Khanna who took out time from his busy schedule to chat with Roshni Magazine. The actor talks about MTV, Bollywood, Hollywood and West-End plays as well as clarifying myths about his choosiness in selecting films. This is one not to be missed—Rahul Khanna unplugged and at his charismatic self.

You went from becoming of India’s most popular VJ’s to an actor who is rather choosy about his films. Was moving to films a conscious decision?
It was always my ultimate destination to begin with. The fact that I was working for MTV just sort of happened and was a pleasant detour. So my focus was to always end up in films and this was just something that happened and as I said was a small detour. It was fun but never something I planned.

So why did you choose Earth as film to debut in?
It sounds horribly lofty to say that I “chose” it like there were five-hundred people breaking down my door and I chose this one. The opportunity came around and I would have been foolish to say no to it because it was a wonderful project, it was an incredible director. I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction into the film world. And it’s a project that till today possibly holds the most special place in my heart in terms of films I’ve done. It’s like your first love! I mean your first film is always very special and especially a film as special as Earth because it was a wonderful experience.

And then you won the best debut award for the film!
Yeah I did! (Laughs)

Expected or not expected?
No, not expected at all! I didn’t see it as a mainstream Bollywood film so I didn’t it would be in consideration at a function like Filmfare which is all about mainstream Bollywood films.

But you really were incredible in the film. It was filled with greats like Aamir Khan and Nandita Das and you really held your own. I just saw it again for the nth time a week and a half ago.
You did! I haven’t seen it in eight years. But it is a wonderful film. And I think all credit goes to the director. People really responded to my role and honestly I had very little to do with it. It was all Deepa Mehta. She really managed to get something out of me, which I actually did not have. I was very green.

Deepa Mehta and yourself seem to have struck a good chord after Earth. She then repeated you for Bollywood Hollywood. How was it the second time round, considering the genre was totally different this time round?
Yeah she did repeat me. It was very different on many levels; the genres were different, we were both at different places in our lives, in our careers. Earth was a period film so it was very difficult. We shot in the winter in Delhi with lots of extras because a lot more work goes into a period film. Bollywood Hollywood was a frothy romance shot in Toronto. So the whole vibe was so different. Earth was a very difficult film to shoot; Bollywood Hollywood was an easy film, it was like being on vacation.

You’ve worked in both Bollywood and Hollywood films. What some major differences and if any, similarities?
Well, the most obvious one is the organization. The preparation that goes into a Hollywood film has more emphasis on efficiency and scheduling. Everything is meticulously planned, and worked out. Everything is very professional, you have unions to deal with and that’s great. In India everything relies on personal relationships which are much more important than say scheduling or a union. Everyone works on a more informal basis but yet stuff gets done! So it’s completely inefficient.

So which one do you prefer then?
It depends from project to project; it really does. I think what is most important is the people you’re working with and the passion everyone has for that particular project.

What was the experience of working with Kevin Kline in The Emperor’s Club and with Danny Glover in 3AM? 3AM went on to be received superbly at the Sundance Film Festival.
Yeah but 3AM was a minuscule part—it really was. I didn’t have any scenes with Danny Glover. All my work was with Sarita Choudhury, I was playing her brother. It was a really tiny part so I had no interaction with any people. It was fine and over in a blink of an eye. The Emperors Club on the other hand was great fun! I was very intimidated going into it because it was Kevin Kline and Michael Hoffman, the director, whose work I had seen and loved. I had seen Soapdish which is possibly one of my favorite films till today. So I thought, “My God! How am I going just be in the same room as these people?” All I remember from The Emperors Club was laughing a lot! It was all boys; Kevin Kline and four of us, we were all male actors. So it was standing around telling dirty jokes and leaching at all the hot extras (laughs). So it was great fun.

East is East is one of my favorite films and you enacted the part of the bratty Tariq Khan on stage. Your performance was loved by critics all over. Did you expect the accolades you received from the play?
You know I didn’t want to do the play. My manager had called me up and told me that they were casting for the play and I should really be seen and considered for it. I was skeptical about doing a play because it sounds like it’s really tedious and tiresome. The play is very different from the film, it much darker than the film. But she said it’s a fantastic director and the theatre company is fantastic so I just went in for it to keep her happy really. I actually wanted another part—the part of the older brother because I thought it was a more substantial part. But they offered me the role of Tariq who is the foul-mouthed, womanizing, playboy. He’s a total brat and I just couldn’t see myself in the part. But I took it and I remember, I was in India doing a photo shoot for Vogue Magazine and I had to fly back early from the shoot while everyone was taking a day off and relaxing in Rajasthan in a luxurious seven-star hotel, and I had to rush back to the rehearsal for this low-budget play. I was bitching the whole way, saying “I can imagine my manager is making me do this!” However, it turned out to be possibly the most fulfilling professional experience of my life. It was just incredible. The director Scott Elliott is just one of the finest directors I’ve ever worked with. I learnt more from doing the play than I ever learned in acting school. It was such fun! It was the most fun I’ve had on a job in my life! And yeah, eventually half-way through the play I realized that this was a special piece and it was going to be liked by a lot of people.

How different is theater from TV and cinema? And which is your preference now that you’ve dabbled in all three?
Again I’ll go back to say it really depends on the project. They all are pretty similar, it’s the same craft. It’s a similar situation, be it a film, a play or television. And it really depends on the material, whether it’s something you connect to, whether it’s something you feel passionate about, and most importantly, whether the people you’re working with, have the same energy about it as you do.

Do you miss VJing on MTV at all?
No never! (Laughs) I mean it’s something I look back on very fondly. I had great times, made a lot of wonderful friends, did a lot of travelling, met some incredibly talented musicians and performers—it was all great fun. But after a point, it was just doing the same thing over and over again. I was challenged or stimulated. I was starting to get a little bored and it was time to move on. The short answer is I loved it but it’s not something I miss.

What was the experience of studying at Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute? What was the most valuable lesson you learnt that you could share with aspiring actors?
Hmmm… (thinks). I’m trying to think about what exactly I learnt there! It was also a fun time. You know what’s great about acting school? It teaches you a bit of discipline. And you are also exposed to so much material that you wouldn’t normally get exposed to, plays and movies. Your teacher will set you an assignment to do from X play and you get to read a play you would have never read, ever before. You get to read a lot of plays that are referenced like, Tennessee Williams or Shakespeare—stuff you wouldn’t normally read. Even now that I am a professional actor, when will I ever read Tennessee Williams or when do I pick up a Shakespeare? So it was nice to have that exposure so that now you have a point of reference.

You’ve worked in rather different films; different styles and plots. Which film could you most relate to?
Hmmm…(thinks) Possibly my character in Bollywood Hollywood is the closest to me and I could relate to.

Your films may have not done well at the box-office but have been critically acclaimed: Raqeeb, Tahaan and Dil Kabaddi are just a few. What do you look for when you sign a film?
You know honestly I’m still trying to figure out what I should be looking for. Some people have a knack knowing what will work and what would be good. I don’t! I really rely on a lot of advice from people. At certain points people have told me, “You should be doing this, or that.” And I would sign that film only to later on realize, “Oh God! Why did I sign this!” So I don’t know. I go a lot by gut and instinct. If I read a script, and I like it or if I feel like the director is going to be good. But I’m often wrong so I’m still trying to figure that out.

Do you feel that you have much pressure to succeed because your father and brother are both established actors?
I don’t respond to people’s pressure that they put on me—I just don’t. But I feel like I put a lot of pressure on myself. Often I don’t feel creatively challenged. I want to be doing more stuff. People say I’m so choosy, but it’s often the case of not having that many or that good choices to choose from. So it comes across as being choosy but sometimes what’s offered to me, there’s not a lot that could be right for me. So I’m constantly in search of something. I would like to be doing films back-to-back but I don’t get any films that I am creatively excited by.

Rumor has it, you are considering direction. True or false? IF so, can we get a glimpse into who you plan to sign for the lead roles and what will the film be about?
You know I read something like that but those rumors are completely false in terms of, I have a project and I’m going ahead with it, no. But at some point I would love to direct and I’ve always said that. Definitely something I will do at some point.

How strange! I read the script was ready, the set was ready and you were just finalizing the cast.

Yeah and apparently my Dad was producing it! Yeah, I read all that. No that is completely false, there is no such thing but yes, at some point I would definitely love to direct and the minute I feel there is an opportunity to do that, I will do that.

Will we ever see you in an all out Bollywood film equipped with dancing around trees et al?
Well I’ve done plenty of it! Elaan was full of dancing and as Bollywood as they come, so was Raqeeb. I’m in two mega Bollywood project which is Love Aaj Kal and Wake Up Sid. I mean do people do a lot of dancing around trees anymore? No! (Laughs) But did you see Elaan? Does it get more Bollywood than that?

Tell us about your relationship with PETA and your advocacy for elephants.
I’ve been in-touch with them for a while and they are a charity I support. And they do wonderful work in India. I know there work in the U.S. is slightly more sensationalist but in India they do a lot of really great advocacy and grass root work which is very admirable. Its run by this incredible firecracker of a woman called, Anuradha Sawhney who I have the highest regard for—she’s fantastic. So she approached me for the Elephant advocacy and it’s a no-brainer. I mean I love animals and I’m happy to help in anyway. And it’s really a group I admire very much in India. I don’t know much about their work outside, but in India they are wonderful.

We hear you’re an avid blogger.
No I’m not! I used to but I haven’t updated my blog in a long time and everyone complains about that. I’m not one of those bloggers who writes everyday and says, “Today I did this and so on,” but I really should blog more often.

So what do you get up to in your spare time?
I fight crime! (Laughs) I read, travel, watch movies, go to the gym, do yoga everyday! So I find plenty to keep myself busy.

What advice do you have for any aspiring actors?
Well first I’d like to congratulate them for being aspiring actors because it’s really tough— I know it’s very tough. And I would say try to hold on to the passion you have for it as much as possible because I think that is really what carries you forward. I look at some actors who have been in the business for year and decades, and they have no passion left and they are just doing it as a job. And that is always sad to see. But then you see actors like say…Anil Kapoor who after decades in the business, he so enthusiastic about everything. He just loves his job and that is incredible to see. So I would say hang on to your passion.

~ Roshni M.
(August 2009)